Addicts Can Recover. Can I?

Addicts can recover. Women can recover. Not all addicts do. Not all women do. Not all addicts are able to stay alive long enough to realize their life is worth something. If I am being honest, there were times when I couldn’t realize my life was worth something, especially when JoDee was in a tent in a snowstorm. I can’t speak to what recovery is like for the addict…. (light bulb goes on overhead- maybe I will help JoDee draft her own post from her perspective), but I can tell you what it was like for me. From the family of the loved one’s perspective. I have spoken about the transition to active addiction to recover for me in other posts. It’s no secret I was doubtful, resentful, angry that I was completely mistrusting of JoDee. I did not think I would ever look at her without punching her straight in the face. And then clean her up with love, of course. The back and forth. Punch her, love her. Strangle her, love her. Throttle her about the body and head, love her. It was an exhausting game. Certainly, there is a normal part of parenting that renders the punch in face feeling. I have often said I would absolutely throw myself in front a train for them, but sometimes, I would absolutely throw myself in front of a train because of them. You can relate, right? I mean, I hope so. They are adults now, so no need to ring anyone!

The desire to punch an addict in the face is much different, however.  It is much less metaphorical and more shit just got real. There were times that I would beg for some higher power to help her get clean, or to help her find her way home or to a hospital, or for her to die so she would be in peace. If I am being honest, I think I believed there would be peace for me too, but the truth is that her death would only bring a new rein of suffrage. One would think that there would be a limit, nay an apex of pain, and sorrow a person can suffer, but have a child addict and you will learn it is boundless. My heart was hardened, to coal. My feelings dried up like a desert and my tears were nothing, but remanence of time gone by. When I would see JoDee I would vacillate between broken-hearted and breaking her legs. So, after two paragraphs of violence, I think you are picking up what I am dropping here.

The point is that there is no switch to turn that off.  Before active addiction hit my life, I was not exactly a crier or a warm and fuzzy person, but I had more empathy for the plight of others. After almost 8 long years, I had two feelings. Anger and fatigue. By the end of this rein of terror, I had thrown myself into work. Working 10-12-hour days. Sometimes coming home from work, to work more. It was easier to sleep and work. Eat occasional. I was super-ass-and-awesomely-skinny. Can’t say I hated that, tbh people.  But digression aside, it was not a life. It was merely existing.  I want to say that it is not sustainable, but it is. I could live the rest of my life that way if I wanted too.  I’m not sure I would have begun the metamorphosis that is/was required to come back to life without JoDee being pregnant. I was hard on her. I didn’t trust her. I was still in active addiction mode. I questioned everything she did. I wouldn’t let her move home. I wouldn’t leave my purse unsupervised. I mean, if you are a parent of a shady ass kid, you know what I’m talking about.

I have talked about how feeling the feels came sort of all at once. And that was difficult too. If you are not a person who was a really a feeler to being with, that sort of emotional tornado is diabolical. It took a while for me to stop being agitated and I should probably admit, more than a little volatile. But watching JoDee’s belly grow with baby inside and doing all the super fun things like throw an awesome baby shower helped me along. And then the fore mentioned uncoupling happened, and everything came to a head.  That was a big breakthrough for me. For my whole family. When all signs of that relationship were gone, out of the house, and realized to not be as traumatic as I thought, I realized, I was happy. Not overjoyed, not elated or jubilant but comfortably happy. Happy and guilty. And I do have to tell you that the happiness grew, probably into jubilance, but the guilt came at the same pace. Guilt about how I raised the kids, questioning if I was a terrible young mother, survivors’ guilt that she lived. I was so convinced that she would kill herself someday, I was more surprised that it didn’t happen than if it had. It was and still is hard to think about the mothers I know that lost children, and not just that the children are gone, but they won’t experience the future of those kids either. Here is the conundrum- I feel terribly that children, husbands, wives, siblings are gone, and have feelings of incredible luck that mine didn’t, which makes me feel guilty for feeling luck. Make sense? No, I didn’t think so. It’s another level of the suffering of addiction life. And I know, woe is me about my poor alive kid, right? I know so the guilt spirals again. It’s a ridiculous cycle.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about JoDee. Her recovery was coming along splendidly. Ugh, I have been watching to many English movies, splendidly? Who says that? But in honesty, it was. She was mothering like a boss. She is such a good mommy. And Brynnlee is surrounded by people who love her! She is dedicated to being a good mother, and it shows. It shows in the 1 million bows and shoes we now have strewn around the house! Baby Daddy is a loving daddy, who was calling her baldy locks because she was so bald. I thought that was hilarious! So, after nearly 8 years of my life being on a string waiting for the piano to drop out of the sky on my head, she just turns it around. Sometimes, that made me a wee-bit, just a tad, we are talking about miniscule amounts of resentment. I hate even admitting it. I kept thinking she is young and made mistakes, but she has plenty of time to make them right. She can be a good mom, and a good partner, and a good sister or daughter. Meanwhile, my marriage broke up, grossly I might add, my job took a very demanding turn, and the divorce was out-of-control ridiculous. I was happy, though, right? So why was I resentful? Isn’t this what I wanted? Wasn’t her recovery what I wanted? Yes, to all of that. But somehow it seemed anticlimactic then the addiction itself. I felt like there would have been this end-of-the-movie moment where she would realize how wrong she had been and would declare herself worthy. At sunset. On a beach. And we would run to each other, hugging and laughing, and all would wonderful. Hmmm…. that actually sounded like the end of a romantic movie, so, nasty. But you catch my drift.  Living with the addiction was so traumatic, and it seemed like coming back to life would be more…. More. I guess just more. The strangest part, the part that I think most parents don’t talk about, not the parents with surviving kids, is that I almost had no purpose. I was only living to keep her alive. Now she is alive and thriving…so what’s my purpose? That’s rhetorical, but you get the thought train, and the ways it wreaks havoc on a girl’s mind. Fun times, people. Fun. Times.

What Kind Of Mother Are You?

Who asks that? If I asked any of you what kind of parent are you, would you know how to answer? The answer the person was looking for wasn’t good or bad. It wasn’t present or distant. It was a thought provoking, mind-boggling, soul-searching response to which I was not prepared to give. To answer a question like what kind of mother I am, I would have to be willing to open the doors of my mind, and view the movie reel flashing over exposed still photos of the life I lived and raised my children in. It would mean asking myself the difficult questions that often pollute my sleep masking as a wonderful dream of a time long ago until it changes slowly into a nightmare of loss and regret. To answer that question I cannot have a knee jerk reaction to immediately start defending myself to a faceless, nameless, entity because it doesn’t exist. It’s just a question.

The question was asked while speaking to a veteran parent of an addict. A veteran parent of an addict is someone whom I admire and trust and that has been dealing with her own addicted child a hell of a lot longer than I have. Our philosophies are not much different and our approaches are similar. The only difference between our addicts is that mine is still struggling for clean time, while her addict has been clean for many, many years. There is no judgment from one parent of an addict to another. I am not judged by her because our family still struggles. She understands that the struggle is my child’s, and that I am the passenger, a hostage along for the ride. She asked me that question as part of a bigger conversation. As part of a conversation where I say I am out of ideas, I don’t know what else to do.  She explained to me that many years ago she was sitting where I was, and someone asked her what kind of mother are you? She never understood until now, why they asked that.  At a time when I feel vulnerable and exposed I don’t particularly like playing Confucius games.  Don’t ask me if man with hand in pocket feel cocky. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I am focused on what our future is. I have tunnel vision to the land of clean time and happiness while I drowning in the muck and mire of active addiction. I wanted to give her the finger.

When I opened my mouth to defend my own honor, to ramble off the statistics that say the mother is always to blame but the addict is responsible, she face palmed me. Hand up, head down, as though I was a runaway truck about to blow a stop sign running down a parade of elementary school children and she was directing the traffic. I stared gape mouthed, resembling a fish. Don’t answer she said. I closed my mouth and gave her the classic hate grin while using my grandmother’s favorite Italian curse silently: may all your underwear ride up. Driving home I thought only about what was for dinner, who was home, would I see my daughter. Would I recognize her as herself? It wasn’t until the infamous bewitching hour of 3am that I began to ponder the hidden meaning behind the question. It was while I was staring at the ceiling listening to the even breathing of my spouse as he used the sleep hours for the intended purpose that I got behind the question.  Of course, this is the same story with a lot of people I know that I am wide awake at 3am trying to solve the words addiction problems, but drooling on myself at noon when I can barely stay awake. This 3am was no different inasmuch as I was awake, but it was completely different because I had something to actually chew on proverbially.

Who can answer the question of what kind of mother am I? How do I start even wondering that? To be able to be honest with myself, the place where all good lies are breed, I would have to think about what kind of a mother I wanted to be. And the answer to that is easy, I have no freaking clue. When I was pregnant with my first child I was still using Clearasil on my teen age blemish’s and thought my biggest problem was telling my parents I wasn’t going to college. The idea that I would be the person molding and shaping and educating and loving another human being was completely lost on me. As I have watched my friends have babies in their “older” years, and by that I mean a more respectable age to have children other than anything ending in teen, I have seen what planning to be a parent really entails. Reading books about parenting, different parenting styles, age appropriate conversations, organization, planning, an attention to detail I’m sure I did not have.  I could make excuses about age, and ignorance, and station in life but the truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.

I was not the traditional cookies and milk afterschool mother. I usually waited until the last minute to get Halloween costumes, using dollars I found during laundry, change from the seats of my car and the last of money I got from my birthday to buy them. I always would forget about school pictures until the morning of hence why I have a lovely set of photos for all of my kids starting at kindergarten to present in which they look like orphans. I wrapped Christmas presents until well after midnight, knowing full well in a few short hours they would be ripped open with wild abandon. And, something I am proud of but probably shouldn’t is that all three of my children knew all the lyrics to Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC. A song we would play at full volume on Saturday mornings when we were cleaning the house. Not that their rooms where ever dirty because all four of us typically slept in my bed together, and if I really needed space, I would make a pallet on the floor for the two older ones. No one ever slept in or other wised used their own rooms unless they had friends sleeping over. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with that.

As I lay in bed, feeling the cat’s walk all over me while I did nothing (a metaphor all of its own I’m sure) I can see the shadows of their bodies on the ceiling. They move around, fighting each other, loving each other, jumping up and down, without a care in the world. I wish I was my cat.  And I realize, that’s the kind of mother I really am. The kind that wishes things. I wish I had more money when they were younger. I wish they could have had a life that included living with both parents. I wish my grandfather didn’t die when they were so young. I wish my daughter wasn’t an addict. But that is what I am now. I used to be the kind of mother that was over-worked, under paid and sleep deprived.  Now I am the kind of mother that lies in bed at night watching the shadow of her cat’s dance on the bedroom ceiling while I ponder what kind of mother I am.

It makes me think that someday, many years from now, I will either be a mother whose child is still active addiction, a mother whose child died from addiction, or a mother whose child is enjoying life in recovery. At some point, sleep happens, and I only know it when I wake up hearing the blaring horn from my phone alerting me to the time. As I drag myself through the morning routine I find I am still thinking about the question. What kind of mother are you? I continue to question and think and process and debate, while I drink my morning coffee. And I decide there is no answer. Right, wrong or indifferent. The question was asked to make me think. Not just in that moment but as I go through life and I make choices, before I seal something with concrete, I will ask myself is this the kind of mother you want to be? The question will give me pause, a moment to reflect on whether my action is the one I want to take. Before I run down this little shit that just stole my pumpkin from my front step, I will ask myself, do I want to be the type of mother that goes to jail over a Halloween decoration? Before I flip off the cross walk guard who always stops me before I enter the school, I will ask myself, do I want to be the mom that everyone remembers for giving the cross walk guard an inappropriate gesture? Before I turn into the human version of the atomic bomb on the people at sprint when my son’s phone didn’t work, I will ask myself, do I want to be the type of mom that the people in sprint hide from when I walk in? The answer to that is yes. Yes I do.